For most of my teenage and adult life, I’ve been looking for a good way to keep track of what I’ve been praying for. For the most part, I’ve always just kept a list of prayers in my journal, but when I am praying through a list, I fight this lingering sense of incompletion. As if prayer—which Paul encouraged us to do “without ceasing”—could ever be be checked off our list!
I will never write down everything I want to pray about. I will never even conceive of everything I could pray about. I will never pray enough for some of the most broken and dark stories of our world. There are some prayers for which I will never see or understand the answer on this side of Heaven; in that case, no amount of prayer would ever be enough.
This is the truth: my lists can never keep up with the depths of the world’s brokenness, and my words could never fully articulate the realities of God’s kingdom. This is highly upsetting to the control freak perfectionist in me.
My friend Melissa once told me about the idea of praying with your imagination. It’s an idea she picked up from Nathan Foster in The Making of an Ordinary Saint. (And a quick Google search tells me that the idea originates with Ignatian spirituality.) Basically, the idea is that if God already knows our thoughts, he doesn’t need us to articulate them with words. And so, we imagine.
I imagine how I hope a difficult conversation will go, I imagine holding a healthy baby at my breast. I imagine an afternoon playtime devoid of temper tantrums, I imagine Ian thriving and learning at school. I imagine refugees heading home to peace and restoration, I imagine black and white kids playing under the wise and compassionate gaze of black and white cops, I imagine teachers operating in their classrooms with excellence and independence. I imagine a Kingdom. I imagine a King.
When I pray with my imagination, the thought is almost complete before I’ve begun to form it, the visual fully formed in my mind, the scene dancing in front of me. I don’t always know how to ask for the freedom I want. Sometimes, I’m weary from praying the same trite phrases over and over again. But imagining? That I can do, and it keeps my inner perfectionist at bay.
Prayer seems vibrant and meaningful again, full of truth and desire and longing. I begin to look at prayer as a means of communion, rather than a task to be checked off; that’s a game-changer for a productivity-obsessed perfectionist like me.